Five times a day, my cellphone tells me something I'd rather it didn't.
"Don't forget," it chimes, "you're going to die."
It's an app called WeCroak. It cost only 99 cents, and since I downloaded it a few months ago, WeCroak — with its poisonous tree frog logo — has served a priceless function my other apps don't.
All those other email and weather and Atlanta Braves apps? Really, they just distract me. From my restlessness. Anxiety. Frustration. Boredom.
It reminds me — with five random notifications that slice like swords through my daydreams — of one truth I often ignore.
"Don't forget," WeCroak says. "You're going to die."
Why on earth would anyone buy such an app?
Isn't it perversely grim?
The app is based on an old Bhutanese belief that in routinely contemplating death, we come to love and savor life.
Or, the reverse: when we forget death — when we ignore and suppress the reality that one day, each of us will take our last breath, with no exceptions — then we lose touch with the preciousness and power of life.
When we forget death, we therefore forget life.
Yet by contemplating death, we then learn to savor life.
"Don't forget," it reminds.
Yet so often, we do forget. I wonder if the bulk of society is based around a collective forgetting. All our politics. All our entertainment. All our dramas. Aren't they, at least in part, just really big distractions, keeping us from the terror and truth of our own death?
Which may come in 50 years.
This is not to make light of death or suffering or grief.
Or to minimize the sadness many of us may feel.
Rather, it is to cut through the silly and pretentious mist that clouds our lives, disguising the vital from the trivial.
"We find that a regular practice of contemplating mortality helps spur needed change, accept what we must, let go of things that don't matter and honor things that do," the WeCroak folks say on their webpage.
Each of the notifications is accompanied by a quote, usually from a poet or philosopher, even a doctor, about death and life.
Like this one, from author Allison Choying Zangmo:
"If we're not reflecting on the impermanent nature of life, then there are a lot of unimportant things that seem important."
Or this one, from funeral director and blogger Caleb Wilde:
"There's so much BS in the world. We pursue bigger cars, bigger houses and bigger salaries that we become so materialized we can barely stand honesty, vulnerability and spirituality. That all changes around death."
Or this, from writer Ursula LeGuin:
"The way to see how beautiful earth is, is to see it from the moon. The way to see how beautiful life is, is from the vantage point of death."
So what's this got to do with Father's Day?
The other day, I was arguing with my kids and — ding! — the WeCroak notification appeared.
"Don't forget," it reminded, "you're going to die."
And suddenly, a little more space opened up inside me, and I saw the pettiness of our argument, and how it didn't really matter.
Another day, I was worrying about this or that — money, work, something — and — ding!
"Don't forget," it chimed, "you're going to die."
And suddenly, a clarity opened up inside me, and I saw the powerlessness that I really fear.
Another day, I had my head in the clouds. Or the sand. I was thinking about this. Or that. Sports. Sex. Food. Trump. Whatever.
"Don't forget," it buzzed, "you're going to die."
And suddenly well, you get the picture.
It's not instant enlightenment; after all, it's only an app.
But it has helped slowly decant my illusions and pretend-games about life and death.
It's nudged me toward adoring even more the relationships I have.
As a father, especially.
It's pushed me closer to wise — or less foolish — responses and perspectives.
Sure, too many days, I am rattled and reactive. Finding wisdom seems harder than a hole-in-one.
But I don't want to waste this life. As a husband. A friend. A son.
And the best way to savor this life is to remember — "don't forget" — that it doesn't last forever.
David Cook writes a Sunday column and can be reached at email@example.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook at DavidCookTFP.